29. Amanda Martinez from UnidosUS | Latinos in Higher Education
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About This Episode

Amanda Martinez (@AIsabelMartin_) is an education policy analyst focusing on higher education at UnidosUS (formerly National Council of La Raza). In her role, Amanda works to advance higher education policy priorities, including issues related to student debt by examining barriers to post-secondary success and advancing key legislative efforts with coalition partners.

Prior to joining UnidosUS, Ms. Martinez was an intern at New America, where she wrote and published blogs on higher education federal aid policies and issues facing underrepresented students. Before working at New America, she was a Young Invincibles Fellow, where her research on the contingent workforce was presented to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives legislative staff. Amanda holds a master’s degree in Public Policy from American University in Washington, DC and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton.

During this episode, we cover the state of Higher Education today, how it impacts the Latinix community, and action steps forward that can be taken to make progress.

THIS EPISODE COVERS:

  • The state of the Latinix community in Higher Education today.
  • How Biden’s American Families Plan impacts the Latinix community in Higher Education.
  • How policy can make it easy for economically disadvantaged students to access education.
  • Ensuring equitable enrollment in the admissions process.
  • And much more…

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Amanda Martinez (00:00:00): If we continue to run on the system that we're running, Latinos are only going to be ending, ending up worse off than they started. And that's from a racial equity perspective. That is the worst outcome possible. And from a civil rights perspective, we're going to fight to make sure we don't see a reverse of that trend.

The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:00:21): Welcome to the student loan podcast. Here. You'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses and inspiring stories about paying off student loans, where your hosts Daphne, Vanessa and Shamil Rodriguez.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:00:39): Welcome back to another episode of the student loan podcast. Everyone. Today we have a great guest in Amanda Martinez. Who's coming from [inaudible] U S a and she's actually an education policy analyst focusing on higher education. So you might be wondering what is it? We need those lists. Well, if you are a, it, you may have heard of it formerly known as the national council of the Plaza. Uh, so, uh, there, there, her role at this organization is to actually advance higher education and policy priorities, uh, including issues related to student debt. So that's how it relates to two little podcasts if you were wondering, but what's great about Amanda is that she actually, uh, has worked at the new America organization as well, which hounded out, of course, that one of our former guests has actually participated in. And she actually had some of her work and her research presented to, uh, members of the staff of the us Senate and house of representatives. So we're, we are excited today to bring them into all board to discuss, uh, the Latino population in higher education. And some of the publications that we need, those us has recently put out that talks about what are some of the actual goals for Latinos in higher education and how to actually get there. So, Amanda, before we get into your background, did I summarize that properly?

Amanda Martinez (00:01:54): Oh yeah, you did a great job.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:01:56): Okay. All right. Great. So before we get into, uh, when you listen, you us, uh, let's, let's talk about your background and then we can go from there. So tell us a little bit about yourself.

Amanda Martinez (00:02:06): Uh, thank you for that introduction. And thank you for having me. It's really exciting to talk about my favorite topics, which is education and the Latino community, um, which I am a part of. So I'm, uh, I like to say I'm, I'm a first-generation college student. Um, I'm Latina, I'm, I'm coming from LA. I was born and raised there. I come from an immigrant family background, so I'm half Mexican and half Ecuadorian. So I have a pretty unique, uh, you know, mixed Latino heritage there. And so both of those met both my mother and father really instilled, um, those two cultures and I had a mix of them, um, which was pretty unique because in LA it's very Mexican, heavy dominated. So having kind of a South American also influence was really influential for my life as well. And gave me a broader perspective of that.

Amanda Martinez (00:03:05): The Latino community is not a monolith, but really is, um, extremely diverse in race and ethnicity. Um, and so that the, yeah, that's kind of like me, my personal kind of background. And, but I really, you know, my parents really instilled within the value of higher education, you know, hard work, um, the value of always ensuring that we're seeking truth and we're giving back to others. So, you know, I was, as the first in my family, you know, my parents always instilled in us that education and pursuing as much as you as much education as you could, would relate to financial security. You know, finances were always sometimes come in and would come out, you know, income volatility and financial insecurity was always a concern, not just for my parents, but really for, for me as well and ensuring that, okay, what can I do to help out my family?

Amanda Martinez (00:04:02): Um, how do I make sure we never have to think about finances for the rest of our life and the path forward for that, which was pushed in, you know, the public education system I was, I went to was higher education or going to college. And so that's kind of how I entered that work. And I didn't really think I was going to end up in higher education policy. I was always interested in politics and policy or advocacy, or somehow getting back to the community, uh, through politics or government, whatever that really public service. I was always interested in that, but I didn't really know that I was going to end up in higher ed or policy or doing reports and data or talking to policy makers, or even really been given the privilege of fighting every single day for my community and busting myths about them and talking about how we need to make investments in our community. Um, so I'm very lucky that I ended up, honestly, in my dream job for the, my dream organization doing really important and critical work, which I would hope ends up in benefits for our community and lifts up, um, more Latinos up the economic, social and economic chain or ladder.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:05:21): That's great. And thank you for sharing that. And we've had some great guests that have shared that, you know, having that immigrant background really has helped shape or molded them in some way or another. Uh, we had a great guest, uh, and doctor, uh, JD Lopez recently that talked about how, um, having that work ethic has really impacted the way that he, he attacked his student loans, um, which is really interesting because, um, and we've had some others as well, but he just came to mind, um, because of what you were saying there like ingraining, you know, having your parents have that impact in the culture. Um, and, and his is more of tribal community culture, but it was really great to, to hear that because we've seen that consistently, I would say, um, from, from a lot of our guests that have come on onto the show. So would that being said, uh, I saw that you, you went to Cal state, uh, to study politics. Um, so how'd you go from Cal state to then D C would you mind just sharing for our listeners? Cause sometimes, you know, a lot of people don't necessarily know that you can get paid to do research, uh, you know, on these types of topics.

Amanda Martinez (00:06:25): Yeah, no, that's a good, it's a good question. Yeah. So Cal state Fullerton, which is, I like to say, I love, I love that school and, but initially I did not want to go there. Um, I think I did not want to go there, go there. And that's something you hear often in the, you know, California is very unique in that it has to, it created in the 1960s, I believe two systems of higher education. It had the UC system. So that's kind of where a little bit more known nationally like UCLA, UC, Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and then it had, which were intended to be research universities only focused on research. And then they created the separate system called the, you know, the Cal state system, which has made up of 23 different institutions across California. And they're a little bit lesser known, but still have high, extremely high quality value for a different purpose.

Amanda Martinez (00:07:24): Really the purpose for the CSU was different than the UCS in that they were supposed to build up. The middle class, kind of be a blue, white collar, uh, you know, build up white collar jobs in the workforce. However, that's changed throughout time. I think both the USC UC system and the CSU system, um, both conduct research, both are nationally known, have called these still provide extreme investments in their communities. Um, so you know, the original it's called the California master plan, but yeah, I never wanted to stay in California, even though I like I'm from LA and now I wrap it all the time. I never wanted to stay in California. I always had interest in going to the East coast. And I was very mesmerized by New York, which is where my Thea, um, lives from my Ecuadorian side. They, you know, they immigrated or ended up, um, staying in New York and that's kind of where they got their start.

Amanda Martinez (00:08:21): So that's where I was exposed to the East coast because I had a FA other family across, uh, completely across the country. But when it came time to applying to college and when it came to the price tag, my parents were like, um, yeah, we don't have money for these things. So I don't know. I felt all your grades and all the things that you're doing, Amanda should pay for all these things. Yeah, me too. I thought, I thought all I had to do is be a good student, you know, check all the, do the sat, you know, be the, be the best in your class, you know, participate locally. I did all those things. And then, you know, my dreams were kind of crushed when I realized the reality of applying to college and the journey to just getting in, or just even trying to get in somewhere really for my family.

Amanda Martinez (00:09:18): And for me, it was not about my act, you know, what I had done in school and preparing up to that, it was, can you afford it? And that the price tag, I, I couldn't afford going across the country. I couldn't do that to my family of, you know, taking on debt and that conversation. Yeah, like was just a very difficult one. I had considered it, but my parents had saved some money for me. And when I looked at, you know, I tried to do the cost benefit even before applying. And I was like, you know, I can only pay for, you know, a couple of schools to apply for it. Cause you have to like apply, you know, pay to pay, to apply to these schools. And I was like, I can't apply to like 10 that's way too much money. I, I had to narrow it down and I had to narrow it down and I considered my family and I considered what I could afford on my own and what I could contribute and took into account what they could contribute and what I would be able to get through scholarships or whatever else was out there.

Amanda Martinez (00:10:22): And I would like, you know, hope that the financial aid would come through, but you just didn't know at that point. So I decided the best and safest route for me was going to a regional school that I knew the price I knew I could, you know, afford somewhat being close to home and, you know, it's, it was a difficult conversations to have with my parents. Uh, and it was a difficult reality to face and it was difficult to let go of my dreams of, you know, going across the way and thinking that that was an opportunity I could have, but my family was really important to me and I just accepted the reality, but it turned out fine. So how did I end up in DC?

Shamil Rodriguez (00:11:10): No. Well, no, thank you for sharing. If you don't mind, I want to jump in there. Like how did you end up in DC before we get there? Um, that's not an uncommon story, unfortunately. Yeah, right. Yeah. Uh, that's not, you know, to make sure that everyone who's listening, I'm sure there are some listeners out there that can connect to that story. Right. Um, and so I just want to say thank you for sharing that because, um, you made a decision that includes your family and, and we've had, you know, death and Catherine wheedle from Lumina foundation on, on the podcast here. And, you know, there we're covering, you know, some of the, they were breaking the myths. That was a great report that they had of borrowers of color. And, you know, one of them was that, you know, Latinos are generally just, um, risk or debt averse generally.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:11:55): And like, that's not the case for everyone. Obviously this it's not a monolith, but, um, I like that you at least shed some light as to some of the, uh, calculus or some of the points that go into your considerations. When you're looking at going to school to say, Hey, it's not just the me thing. Uh, this is going to impact my family. They're going to try to help me as much as they can, but I don't want to put on an extra strain on them just because I want to go to this one specific school. Um, so thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. And so, so now, now that now that we see that the, you know, family is a big, important part there, and it's, it, to me is a very common story that I've heard for a lot of first-generation college students, right. Having to make that decision. Um, so how did you go from, from political science at Cal state Fullerton, uh, to then making the jump? Was there a difference in the financial education you had or did you get a scholarship, you know, talk to us about that and no, that's not what we originally came on for, but I really feel like this is a good way for our listeners to connect to what I think is a very real story.

Amanda Martinez (00:12:59): Yeah. I mean, I took out student loans the second time around,

Shamil Rodriguez (00:13:04): So,

Amanda Martinez (00:13:05): Um, yeah, I mean, I had to, there was no way. And so during my college career, I, I started getting involved locally, like, so I was involved as I was a student advocate, you know, I registered students for, uh, registering them to vote, registered them or tried to activate them so that they understood their rights or where they could vote. And, you know, so th you know, I was involved in student government and really loved that work and love, you know, being on the ground with students, with my, with my own colleagues, with my own friends, trying to get people activated, you know, in creative ways and talking about, um, the value of their voices and every single decision in their life. Uh, that was always something that was the, the community aspect of being a part of that with just talking to students and trying to figure out, okay, what are your problems?

Amanda Martinez (00:14:11): How can we solve them? And then what's the top of mind issue for you? Hey, you can talk to your local legislator about this. You don't know how to hear. I can give you a short pamphlet on how to do that, or come train with me and you can go talk to your legislator, them yourself. So I had mentors, you know, who exposed me to these tools or exposed me into becoming my own advocate. And then once I was given that in college and my first few years, then in my, uh, last two years, then I was given the opportunity of actually then training and then doing that myself and passing those tools on to, to the younger folks or whoever else was coming in. And then also coordinating at a system level with other student leaders. How could we coordinate together as a system to do that, even at a larger scale at a state level.

Amanda Martinez (00:15:05): So that's kind of how I started realizing, Oh, wow, you can, you know, policy makers, there's these people called policymakers who sit up, who are elected by the people they're sitting, you know, at the state Capitol. And they're making decisions for people. And for me, and for me, my family and my friends and I had no idea, I had no idea until I started getting involved and started learning and educating myself on how decisions are made and going to a public regionals school. I learned through tuition increases and just things that were happening, um, that would affect my life personally and would affect my friends lives personally, like a tuition increase when everyone heard about that, we were like, wait, where's this coming from? And who's doing this, uh, this, this $270 increase to my tuition. I don't think I can pay that next semester.

Amanda Martinez (00:16:02): So how do we, and usually people, if you, if you aren't involved, or if you're you're unknowing maybes, most people would just accept that and say, you know what, I can't do that. And I'm going to take a semester off, but if you're engaged and you're informed, and you're tooled up with the right advocacy tools, you can realize you can defeat that and say to whoever is instituting that type of policy that might affect thousands of students or your life personally, you could potentially change your own outcome. And I had no idea that that was something of the real world we lived in as a society. And once I learned that and you could change it and we did, and we stopped the tuition increase. We gathered people to come to the Capitol and tell their stories and tell them the data and show them what the potential impact of instituting. Something like that could do, uh, not just to one institution, but across the nation, the cross, the state and the impact that could have the ripple effects of that for, you know, further students in the future, uh, that that was power. That was people power that was changing policy. And then I re and someone said, you know, you could do this as your job. And I was like, what's, I can do this as my job.

Amanda Martinez (00:17:23): That was the coolest thing. And I was like, okay, what does this call it? Please tell me. And they're like, well, you're mostly involved in organizing work, but, uh, also when you're talking to legislators and you're bringing forth research and kind of data and sharing with them, the truths about this, um, in critical moments in policy and the policy making process, that's called policy work. And so I was like, okay, what do I need to do to, to do this professionally, get the credential that I need? What is it? And, you know, people prefer, you know, those who've been doing the work, the longest told me, well, you should probably get a master's in public policy. And so that was kind of like, okay, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. And I need to get that the, the higher more degree.

Amanda Martinez (00:18:11): And I knew the only way I could do it was obviously by myself this time my parents had no more left and I actually was actually had borrowed from them. So at that point, I was like, well, I have to pay back my parents and I have to do this on my own, um, because my parents have negative money now, so, or I owe them. So I had to take on the student debt. And the reason why I chose to come to DC was because I realized that even though I had done a lot of work at a state level and at a local level, there were still issues that I cared about, uh, specifically in 2016 when, uh, the former president Trump rescinded DACA that really hit home for me. And it made me also realize, cause that affected not just, um, my, my friends and my family, but it affected a lot of the people in the state of California. I realized

Shamil Rodriguez (00:19:05): Listeners know what DACA is?

Amanda Martinez (00:19:07): Oh yeah. DACA is the deferred action for childhood arrivals, which was, uh, was first introduced, but it's not a law, but it was first introduced by president Obama. And it was, um, kind of a moratorium to not defer those who had come into the U S at 16 years, if they had come into the U S at 16 years or young or, um, by their parents. So they, they weren't really necessarily aware that they were undocumented or weren't in the U S legally. Um, then they were granted this, they weren't going to be forced to be deported. And the, and if you filled out an application through the department of Homeland security, also, if I'm getting this wrong, I might get some of them wrong. Uh, but if you filled out an application then, and you had, you met certain requirements, like you were attending, you're planning to attend a college. If you, then you would get, uh, and your application was approved, you'd have the opportunity to have a work authorization, um, to work in the U S still, you're not granted permanent residency, which is a different application, but hopefully it would give you some stability as a DACA recipient, um, to work and go to school and not be afraid that I, um, would deport you back to a country. You had never known up until, you know, the only country he had ever known was the U S

Shamil Rodriguez (00:20:39): No, well said, no, no. I just want to make sure that our folks are keeping up with, with that DACA, um, and how that was people. So, so that was no longer in place under, uh, for president Trump and then it moved. Yeah. So then I moved you over to, at this point,

Amanda Martinez (00:20:57): Right? It made me realize that certain problems in my community couldn't be solved at a local or state level. Then I couldn't go to my state policymakers and say, Hey, you got to protect all my friends who are not just DACA recipients, but undocumented, because that, who separate groups now, right? Because there are some who went through, who were able to go through the application process of receiving DACA. But then there are some who at that point in time, maybe were starting the application, or hadn't even known about it, or known that it was an opportunity. And we're just completely, actually undocumented and truly at risk of being deported to a country that they maybe are not familiar with at all. Um, and I realized, Oh, the only way you can stop things like this from happening to my family. And my friends is at a federal level.

Amanda Martinez (00:21:53): And so I was like, I need to go to the federal level and I need to, uh, be there to try to advocate or learn the most at the federal level so that I could have the most impact at my, at that point in time, I thought that the federal government was the place where you could have the most impact. Um, and so I, I, I went to DC. I came to a school in DC and I stayed here. And I'm pretty glad with that decision because it's been, it's been true, uh, for the past four years, the most impact has been. And then the most fighting that has needed to happen has been at the federal level. Unfortunately, States are, when you have a aggressive or large government, sometimes States don't have as much power impact as they could have maybe in the past.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:22:39): Sure, sure. And I think the, the, or remember just immigration in general from a conceptual level is really is a federal issue. Um, and I know a lot of States and cities will try to get involved in that with, uh, you know, having, uh, safe spaces where ice is not welcome to the port folks, uh, or they will cooperate in that way. But that's another podcast episode for sure. Uh, but no, we've, I, I glad you shared that. Daphne, did you want to, uh, jump in here because it just reminded me a lot of, one of our episodes that we've had, where we actually had someone on board who was sharing his story about, uh, going through the higher education system here in America, um, as an undocumented immigrant, and now he's in law school and going to be done soon. And, you know, he had to finance everything out of pocket and, um, you know, those stories are real and, and we hope that we encourage people to listen to those because you're doing great work by getting motivated, to use your platform, to try to make change, uh, for those types of people directly being impacted by these laws.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:23:46): So, um, I want to make sure, definitely before we shift over gears, Daphne, you wanna jump in, uh, uh, I'd ask a question here.

Daphné Vanessa (00:23:54): No, I think it really is another episode, especially with, uh, the country specific choices on DACA. So I think that's a separate episode

Shamil Rodriguez (00:24:05): For sure. Um, all right, Amanda, so now let's see, we are now we're on your journey. We are leaving California and we've made our way to DC. Is that right? Yes, that's correct. Okay. All right. So now you've, you've, uh, settled in, in, in DC. Uh, we're going to follow you along this journey here and, um, you're at new America at this point or not yet.

Amanda Martinez (00:24:27): Yeah. So I went to American university. I did, I actually did a fellowship with young invincibles first, before new America, which is where I really got my feet wet in policy. And that's why I wrote my first report research report. It was on a different topic. It was about the contingent workforce, or that's a really fancy term for independent contractors or those who were gone like independent contractors, where are today similar to like freelance workers or Uber drivers and drivers. Um, so young invincibles as similar to those and different and similar to Numerica, but it's a nonprofit, very, it has an organizing element to it. So they're organizing young people on the ground. Their mission is to improve the economic, you know, economic outcomes of young people and ensuring their voices are at the table where policy makers are at a federal level. And they're also located regionally in different States like Texas and California.

Amanda Martinez (00:25:32): Sure, sure. So that's, that's kind of where I, I got a little bit of my feet wet and I learned just, you know, how to talk to federal policy makers there. I started my grad school program. I worked while I was in grad school because money, uh, even though I had student loans and it did get some institutional scholarship, you know, going to a private non-profit school was an experience in itself and was very, it was very divergent compared to my public regional experience. Uh, there's there's positives and negatives there, but I still, you know, I still decided to work just cause I'm always just really concerned about money. Um, and then yes, then I did an internship, did that new America, I was able to actually get paid while doing that. So that was, that was a great kind of burden off my chest of being able to do research work, learn more about, um, higher education policy at a federal level, not at a state level, because that's what I was most familiar with higher education policy at a, at a state level and at an institutional level, because that's where kind of my background was coming from.

Amanda Martinez (00:26:47): And I just learned so much about, again, I had no idea that the federal government had a say, in instance, you know, in, uh, navigating or making better or making worse, the nation's higher education system up to States or just institutions themselves. So that was, again, this other like new reckoning of, wow, you can create impact on a federal level. Like this is just solidifying my plan. I, I need to, I want to create impact for my community at a federal level. And really what new America also taught me was I, while I loved my work and research there, and I was able to learn about the higher education system, the flaws, the gaps, and reading reports and research and the data on how students are doing and, uh, the problems and the cost is going up. And student loans are just rising and the outcomes are bad.

Amanda Martinez (00:27:44): You know, just all this crisis happening everywhere. I really wasn't able to focus too much on my community. And I didn't find a lot of research on the Latino community either. It was almost kind of like searching for a treasurer and I couldn't find it. And I couldn't find myself in the work as well. There was some stuff about first generation college students, but really I was looking for a reflection of what my friends were going through, what I went through. And I didn't find that in the conversations I was around in DC when I would go to briefings or Hill meetings and I didn't find it in policy makers, I didn't really even honestly find it in my colleagues in, even in my grad school program. I think I was like probably the only Latino in my grad school program. And so I noticed this gap and I, that was also my first time being away from California, you know, and I was so used to being around my community.

Amanda Martinez (00:28:45): I had never really, truly dug deep to think about my ethnicity and never felt so far away from my culture and people who were coming from a similar background as me, thankfully though I found who knew the LIS Latino civil rights organization. And I was like, wow, I get to do policy. I get to do education. I get to research education and I get to focus only on my community. And I get to be with people who are also similar vein as me and in, uh, in ethnicity and race. And in background, like, man, how did I even find this? Who knew it even existed? Cause it, because it really doesn't. So that's how I ended up at any of those. And at the end of my, um, my stint, I knew America. They actually put me in contact with, uh, who knew those and saw the opportunity and saw that like, wow, Amanda, you love the stuff you clearly know where you want to narrow in and focus on. We think this is where you could potentially be. And then I graduated from my, my program and I started on my job up. I've been there for over two years now.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:29:58): That's great. That's a amazing, and I'm glad you walked us through because your story is very emblematic of a, what I would consider a very traditional story for a Latino in America who went to school and not just Latino, but generally for a lot of descendants of immigrants that are first generation college students. So thank you for sharing that, but I think it's a good segue to speaking about how you finally found like that niche that you really wanted to get into, uh, when you landed at, when you, those, uh, and talking about, if you don't mind sharing, let's get into, what is the current state of Latinos in higher education today, right? You said there was a lot of times you were in meetings and policy meetings with staffers on the Hill and you just, you just didn't hear, you know, the, the Latino story being told. So what, what is that story? If you don't mind, let's lay down that foundation for the listeners to see what that is.

Amanda Martinez (00:30:51): Yes. Okay. It's my favorite story to tell because it's one of, I would say it showcases our resilience and not a lot of people start with resiliency. They like to go to, okay, here are all the gaps, but I'm going to tell you a story about how Latinos have really made so many strides, not just in the K through 12 space, which, which makes sense. There's been a lot of work at the federal level, uh, to change the K through 12 systems that it helps, uh, low-income students make their way to college and those policies have worked. And so in the past decade, um, just looking at, from 2000 to then to now, like the recent data of 2018, you've seen Latinos have been rising in enrollment rates, more so than any other racial or ethnic group, even in 2008 during the recession, we were the only group that actually enrolled, continue to enroll in both undergraduate and graduate school, despite, you know, the, the fears of economic downturns.

Amanda Martinez (00:32:05): So in, in 2000, sorry, I was going to give you a kind of, uh, an increase in 2000. I think we made up about 14% of undergraduate students across the nation, but now in 2019, we make up about 21% of undergraduates. Uh, so that's, uh, uh, more than a 10% and more than a 10 point jump or one in five college students, however, unfortunately, uh, due to COVID all of those gains for the past decade and decades before then, and going through the recession now, we're seeing drops in enrollment and that's really due to the staggering effect of COVID, uh, both the health impact and the economic impact. And we're continuing to see it. So for instance, and which is something we're really concerned about. Um, so just recently in spring enrollment, recent numbers, we're still seeing about a fi of 8%, 8% drop in enrollment for Latinos.

Amanda Martinez (00:33:20): Actually, I might have that number wrong, but it hovers around six to 8% drop in enrollment, which is completely countered to what, what, what was happening before the pandemic. Latinos were actually always making gains in enrollment, but that's not just the whole picture, right? Because enrollment is just one thing while we can applaud enrollment and that more Latinos are matriculating. And seeing clearly, clearly the value Latinos and their families value higher education, which is why so many are attending. What we're seeing is that once they get onto a campus because 70% or a majority are first-generation college goers. And for those who might not know what first-generation is how we define it at many of those is when both of your parents didn't attend or complete a four-year degree. So 70% is a big chunk and that in itself is a unique experience. And when you are entering this new system that you and your family has never navigated before, that might cause some barriers to start coming up.

Amanda Martinez (00:34:27): And we do see that from our research, from our work that Latinos unfortunately have the widest college completion gap compared to all other races and ethnicities. So, and that's across, that's the cross different types of institutions. They have, um, different gaps across different types of institutions for completion. So that's really concerning because when you don't complete your degree, you're not guaranteed the wage premium that you were intending to, to attain when you first entered. And then worse is when you have, when you enter a school with some debt and then you don't complete your program, you're still saddled with that debt as a reminder. Oh, remember when you went to school and you didn't complete. Yeah. You still have to pay that debt back, unfortunately. And what we know about Latinos in the workforce is that we're still, you know, those still make, have lower median income than their white counterparts, and it's still face workforce discrimination in the workforce.

Amanda Martinez (00:35:39): So even if they do complete a degree, having to, um, is gonna always be a difficulty. And when they enter repayment, there's going to be negative, really bad outcomes. Or what we are seeing is out negative outcomes, where we do see that Latinos have higher delinquency and default rates. But again, I'd like to point out the, at the completion gap and the negative outcomes in student loans and in repaying, their student loans really isn't at the individual's fault. It's really, you know, institutions aren't prepared really to provide the necessary resources. You know, we've seen in the past decade, just as Latinos were enrolling that overlaying over that same decade, that's the same time policy makers at a state level and a federal level decided we're not going to no longer invest in higher education. We're going to decrease Pell grant money. We're gonna decrease state investments in our public higher education.

Amanda Martinez (00:36:40): And students were going to institutions. Weren't really realizing that their, their demographics were changing out there, that their campuses, and really putting it on students and their families to fill the gap. And so the federal government decided at that same time as Latinos were enrolling, Oh, we're going to provide federal loans instead of providing investments and, you know, subsidizing tuition and non tuition costs. So what you see is really, as students are coming in with hopes and dreams, really the federal government and the state government changed their mind about how they want it to finance the system and students had to, and also Latino students are coming in to institutions that really didn't understand the needs or as a first-generation student, how to navigate or help support them in completing their degree, not just enrolling them, but completing. And so that's kind of the story.

Amanda Martinez (00:37:40): It's an unfortunate one, but I mean, we do see successes where Latinos, despite the change to a debt finance system, despite institutions not really providing any type of support, any type of guidance, any type of navigation or guide to complete their own system, that Latinos still, when they do complete, they become entrepreneurs. They become contributors to the community. Uh, they enter the public service, their teeth. There are teachers, there are nurses, there are essential workers. Um, they're the leaders of the day. And we do see still there's benefits when you do complete a degree. And if you somehow make it through that really intense, uh, mountain or bridge across, once you make it across, there are benefits to our community, which is why we still believe and why our community believes and still values higher education.

Amanda Martinez (00:38:39): But really it's a to get past there. And in the current state that it is, uh, we see that Latinos have to work while they're working. Most of them are part time. So they're working, they're still taking out loans, but even when they take out loans, they're still working. They're decided they switch up their enrollment from, okay, this semester, I'm going to be full-time, but next semester, I'm going to go part-time or I'm going to take, I'm going to have to take, they're going to multiple different types of institutions. They're really trying to finesse the game. And it's a difficult one to finesse, uh, but the ones who make it out and we do make it out, you know, as I said, there are games, there are, um, wage premiums that are received, but it's not an easy road. It's really not. And it's not really at our own fault. It's due to the fractures in the higher education system.

Daphné Vanessa (00:39:30): For sure. And so what are some of the solutions that, that we can take, not only on a policy perspective, but what are some everyday solutions that, that you and I regular people can take part in to contribute to the enhancement of higher education for Latinos?

Amanda Martinez (00:39:51): Yeah, so we put out, uh, uh, a report or a policy agenda, which kind of maps out the different problems. Okay. When, when I was talking about enrollment, we're still seeing, not equal enrollment across institution types. Unfortunately, uh, Latinos are over well, not unfortunately, well for some are overrepresented at two types of institutions right now, which is for-profit colleges, which are known to be predatory in nature, and usually provide degrees that are of low quality. So they just stack up people with high debt and most those who don't complete, or even those who do complete, they don't receive the wage premiums they were promised. So then they're kind of stuck in a workforce, um, just kind of paying a debt to a degree that provides them with no work for work opportunities. And Latinos are overrepresented at community colleges. And so while some community colleges do have, you know, do provide a really great quality education and have really good, um, completion rates, a lot of them also because of their under their under-resourced schools, uh, they don't, Latinos don't necessarily have good completion rates at those schools or transfer rates so that they enter for your degree and then can, can graduate there with whatever path they're trying to take.

Amanda Martinez (00:41:13): So there there's still there's w in our agenda, we kind of map out, okay, here's the problem in enrollment. Here's a problem in completion. Here's a problem in student loans for Latinos, here's the problem in financial aid, we map out all, we kind of like list out the problems and we measure how, how wide the problem is, where the gaps are. And then we provide a couple of solutions to each problem. So there's about eight kind of goals that we have policy goals or problems we're trying to solve. Right. I mean, eight is a lot, right. Um, we see, we see that there's an opportunity in this administration and in this con press to kind of push on on four of them. So half, and we picked the four because we think those are necessary right now, especially right now. And I think, um, you know, going back to thinking about the profile, today's Latino Latinos in higher education, they're first generation and they're low income students.

Amanda Martinez (00:42:15): So making colleges and universities affordable is really top of mind, but we don't want to just make colleges, universities affordable, what we want it to be targeted. So when we say making high quality colleges and universities more affordable, we want to make sure that any investment, the federal government or state governments make are targeting those resources first to high needs students, or low income students. Uh, those who are first-generation with those tags, who are our second kind of idea that we think should be really top of mind for anyone is also make making investments back into higher education and making sure that need-based aid is coming first before merit, but merit based aid. So making those opportunities more easily accessible right now, it's very difficult to one, as I mentioned earlier, in my own story, you know, learning about the FASFA or the FAFSA application, when I fill that out every single year, like I would cry and everyone, everyone I taught and knowing that it was coming, I would cry.

Amanda Martinez (00:43:23): I was like, Oh, no, I had to do this again. I have to fill up this thing. I don't know if I'm doing it right. Is the government going to come after me are going to be later? Like no one ever told me. And I almost, I remember one time I filled it out and my dad came to me and just gave me like the documents that I needed to do. And I was learning about the tax system and these numbers and withholding. I was so confused. And I almost was like, if I can clearly, if I can't feel this out, then I can't go to college. It was, and I wanted to get it. It was, it was crazy how it made you, it made me just want to give up entirely going to college. Um, so if that's my story, like, imagine those who are in the Latino community as well, have parents who are maybe, um, English, isn't their is their second language.

Amanda Martinez (00:44:19): So that makes it, I, I can't even, I'm glad that my, my parents one know both and I know both, but if they, if I couldn't even understand how to conceptually translate what the festival was in Spanish, I don't think that's, I don't know if that even exists. So, so, um, I, you know, it's, we need to make it more simple and more easy for low-income students and their parents to one access to financial aid and understand it, understand what they're able to receive, understand the benefits of it and just give it to them. Why make it so complicated?

Daphné Vanessa (00:44:57): Good point, good point. And we touched on, so the FAFSA, I mean, create example, right. Quite a complicated process, and it's been brought up and people bring it up episode after episode. So it's clearly, it was not a great time, but I want to go back to the first school that you said, just to see if some of the things that are happening right now in the administration are perhaps caring for that. And how much do you think that only those actually contributed to some of the proposals in Biden's plan? So the American's first plan includes, um, you know, different provisions for minority serving institution, which includes what they call Hispanic serving institutions. But I prefer the word Latino. And how, how close do you think that gets given? They have income thresholds and all to goal number one?

Amanda Martinez (00:46:00): Yeah. When, so, when we were also crafting this policy, we're looking at different proposals that different presidential candidates were putting forth out different that the proposals that were put forth in different congresses. And so in the proposal we do mirror, uh, like the one $25,000 threshold. We do, we do mirror that in our, in our ask, we, but we do call for it. We could, we go a little farther than what, uh, president Biden's American family's plan calls for, because it doesn't meet our asks entirely. For instance, the one difference is that we call for debt-free college, not just two year public colleges and universities, but at four year public colleges and universities, and his proposal only limits it to two year public community colleges. And it's not, debt-free, it's just two wishes, one free,

Daphné Vanessa (00:47:17): Very good point. Can you share with the audience, the differences between them?

Amanda Martinez (00:47:22): Yeah, so, and we wrote up a little thing, so I could send that all to you about like our small analysis on how it compares to what we call for. Um, so two, so tuition free and debt free, you know, policy, policy walks, and people really like messaging in different ways, but tuition really only when you hear tuition free, usually those policy proposal plans only cover whatever the price tag is of a college. So it's blind to the other costs that come with college that necessarily aren't on the price tag, or aren't really in your, when you get your financial aid, you know, or your letter saying like, okay, this is how much you owe, uh, it tells you, okay, this is your student, your tuition, and here are your fees. What it doesn't tell you and what you end up finding out later, right?

Amanda Martinez (00:48:14): In our experience for those who can relate, you end up realizing, Oh, but this doesn't, this doesn't give me an estimate for how much my living expenses are going to cost this. Doesn't give me an estimate for how much my books are going to cost. According to my degree that I'm studying for this, doesn't give me, uh, the materials that I might need technology included. Now, you know, technology is like a big one that was unintended cons costs. So all the other non tuition costs, even healthcare costs that you might have to cover for your transportation costs, getting to school. Um, if you're a commuter, you know, just those costs. If you're trying to live your life and go going to work and school at the same time. So food, like all the basic needs, it doesn't cover those things. So debt-free, that's where debt-free comes in. That free is not blind to those other necessary necessities that a student may need to attend and complete their degree.

Daphné Vanessa (00:49:12): You mean you can't fast for four years and just not,

Amanda Martinez (00:49:21): Oh, wow. Well, that's an enlightening, but students have tried. And so, I mean, I'll have fasted, but I have rashes.

Daphné Vanessa (00:49:33): Yeah, yeah. You, yep. It's, it's real. Right. Um, and so I appreciate you sharing the differences because oftentimes people point to tuition free when that might not be entirely a solution for all demographics and all socioeconomic classes. So thank you for sharing that. Correct.

Amanda Martinez (00:49:56): Yeah. And also, I would say that the plan, while it's really encouraging to see this added investment, it's like a separate investment to minority serving institutions, which includes Hispanic serving institutions. Also Cal state Fullerton is Hispanic serving institutions though. Um, I, you know, I value, um, just size and HBC use it. It does provide the separate set aside of funding to those institutions. And it doesn't make a difference between whether they're a two year or four years. So that's really great. We're seeing more resources being targeted to where low income, uh, more diverse racial and ethnic groups are attending those schools. So that's great. But also what we call for in our, in our plan is that, okay? Yes, let's provide money to provide more investment in two-year and four-year public schools, but while you're doing that, let's have an eye towards completion. And in order to do that, you need to be also providing institutions with, um, plans or kind of ensuring that they are ready and prepared to create plans, to make, to ensure equity, not just to enroll their students, but to help them complete.

Amanda Martinez (00:51:12): So what support programs are going to be providing, how are you going to ensure that you're looking not just at the first year and two years of their school, but how are you ensuring that they're, um, going to complete their courses that they need to so that they get past their third and fourth year or fifth year as a matter of fact. And then also, because we know that a lot of Latinos are overrepresented at two year colleges, it means they probably also want to transfer to a four year degree. So in that plan, what transfer policies are you going to ensure at a federal level or making sure that States are, are keeping an eye towards making sure that their institutions are going to create an easy transfer process for their students? So they're not just stuck, like, okay, great. I got two years debt-free college. I want to continue more to pursue my, uh, another degree or two to pursue and whatever their workforce aspirations are. But now I don't know how to get over the bridge because I don't have X, Y, and Z for this transfer thing, or I missed this one thing. And now, you know, it creates a different obstacle and we want to make, if we're going to make such a high investment in higher education, we need to do it correctly. And we need to ensure that the inside skeleton is, is aligned.

Daphné Vanessa (00:52:36): I love it. I love it. I think that's a really comprehensive look at the, the source of the problem and the root cause, which is not something that, uh, you know, everyday people are looking at. So thank you for that. Before we get into the third and fourth solutions, I have a quick question that may seem like it's coming from left field, but here we're really focused on this challenge of the student loan crisis, the high and rising cost of higher education, but is there value for the Latino community to encourage more entrepreneurship? So that business and financial security is what the foundation is. And then you choose to go to college afterwards, if you still desire slash need it. What do you think about that argument?

Amanda Martinez (00:53:36): I would say, why can't it be both? Right. Uh, again, I think that there are multiple, there are definitely multiple pathways to entering the workforce or building up financial security for the Latino community, or even building up wealth accumulation for our community. Cause we're still facing a very large wealth gap, um, compared to whites, uh, the racial wealth gap is only widening. So I don't, I mean, I'm not, uh, uh, much of an expert on entrepreneurship. I know that entrepreneurship is, is something that our economic team does, does push for and looks for opportunities to build that up and, uh, ensure that our community is also B is able to easily participate. If that is something they want to pursue. I think it's another pathway, right? I think if, if that pathway can work and it's shown to work and we can make it work, I think it could probably potentially be integrated or partnered with higher ed. If it, if it doesn't work out that way, then it doesn't work out. I think you could probably have both though at the same time, I think multiple, you know, higher education is, is one pathway. Um, and we're just trying to ensure that that pathway can work for the most people, but if it doesn't then, you know, an individual should be able to have multiple pathways in this country. I think that's true.

Daphné Vanessa (00:55:10): Yeah. Thank you for your feedback back to our regular programming. This is great. So Amanda, would you mind us walking through, uh, the last,

Amanda Martinez (00:55:22): I'll be quick on the last two? Yeah. The last two are really, and going back to the, making it easy for economically disadvantaged students and parents, we really make a note about parents as well. Yeah. I think that's kind of missing out on the conversation, um, to understand financial aid. We actually kind of, this one was kind of already a little bit done last year at the end of 2020 through the consolidated appropriations act, which is very, it's a large bill with appropriation is just a bunch of money line items. Like it's like think of your budget and there's all the different line items for like your groceries and all your rent or your mortgage or credit cards for the government, right. To keep everything open. But sometimes they include a little nugget of legislation that is not money, but is text and it changes the law.

Amanda Martinez (00:56:19): So FASFA was actually simplified in the, at the end of 2020. And we're going to be able to see those changes. Those simplification changes in 2023. Um, I think if I'm, if I'm remembering correctly, so not next year, but hopefully in the next two years, two to three years. And then also recently today, which we were pushing really hard for is that undocumented students, including DACA recipients, who've had to prove, you know, all of these requirements to the federal government are excluded, systemically excluded from receiving any type of post-secondary benefit. So they're not allowed to access even federally backed student loans, which pushes pushes them into the private student loan market, which is why you actually see, um, Latinos actually have a higher rate of taking out private student loans versus their white counterparts, um, which is a problem, which we think that's probably due to one of the complication with, um, just the federal student loan system.

Amanda Martinez (00:57:24): And then too, because we're seeing a growing undocumented population, um, and enrolling in and persisting in higher education, but consistently across the board, no matter where they are in the U S are not allowed to receive any type of Pell grant or financial aid or even student loans. So, um, but today the, the hope, the great news that I was going to share about how number two was kind of somewhat a glimmer Gulliver hope was that in the coat, in the past packages and the recent package of the American rescue plan, which gave more money to institutions to provide emergency grants, um, they announced that they're actually going to be made. The emergency grants are going to be made eligible to undocumented students or students, just students in general, who show exceptional need, regardless of their immigration, as long as they were, um, enrolled or were a student during the COVID crisis, which is really amazing because they get no help and have not gotten any help since the beginning of this country, uh, in the higher education system, since it existed, which is crazy to me.

Shamil Rodriguez (00:58:39): Uh, these are, these are the types of changes that we'll include in the show notes as well. Uh, because, uh, this, uh, might be, uh, not as fresh news by the time this episode comes out. So I want to make sure that we're people can reference it, uh, as they, as this comes out. But, um, but Amanda, thank you so much. This was fantastic. I really, it was enlightening. I'm glad that, that you shared your story. I think it really helped bring to light the experience and the reason why you're doing the work that you do, uh, which is very important because your rep, like you said, at one point earlier, you know, you're looking to represent and advocate for people that don't know that that's the case, that you have to go to your state legislature, that you have be civically engaged, that you have to be involved at a federal level because there are people making decisions that impact you every day. And if you don't vocalize that opinion, they will make those decisions without you, and that is going to happen. So I applaud you for doing that work. Thank you for continuing that fight and advocating, uh, for your causes, that only those who S and I, and I'm glad to hear that, um, that you are continuing to fight, uh, Daphne, is there anything that you wanted to, uh, wrap up with here, uh, before we gave Amanda the last word here? No, I think this was a great episode.

Amanda Martinez (00:59:58): Um, I know we didn't get to that last point, but Amanda, feel free to take it away and wrap it up. Yeah. I mean, I lost this point that with related to student loans and making it more manageable and less of a financial risk to bars, especially to Latino bars, we have a bunch of ideas, but really, I think also top of mind, which can be done if enough people, you know, call their legislators and talk about it with their families or their friends, or as you all are doing, talking about it is canceling some level of student debt. It's not, it's, it's not gonna, it'll be when time, it won't technically solve the entire problem of the student loan issue, but it will provide relief to those who are really struggling right now. And that will include Latino borrowers. So in a, in a dream world, we would love for people to advocate for both one canceling student debt, but also having a proposal and tying that also to investing in higher education, because we don't want this debt finance system any longer to continue running our country the way it is. Um, it's just producing really bad outcomes, especially for low income students of color, especially the Latino community. If we could, if we continue to run on the system that we're running, Latinos are only going to be ending up worse off than they started. And that's from a racial equity perspective, that is the worst outcome possible. And from a civil rights perspective, we're going to fight to make sure we don't see the reverse of that trend, but that's where I'll leave it. Mike drop.

Shamil Rodriguez (01:01:43): Yeah, seriously well said. Um, no. Great, great. So we'll, we'll, we'll post all that in the show notes. Thank you so much for joining us, Amanda. It was great having you share your story and the information and the great work that you're doing at, uh, we need to see Wes. Uh, so if anything, anyone you want to learn more about this information, get involved or reach out to Amanda, check us out in the show notes, or you can find her bio and more information about any of those that we need. Those us.org that's uni, D O S U s.org. We will see you on the next episode of the sit alone podcast.

Speaker 5 (01:02:20): For more information on today's episode, visit the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 29. That's the student loan podcast.com forward slash episode 29.

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